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'Unprecedented' severance pay on the table for new Portsmouth city manager

The council members negotiating her contract want to offer Tonya Chapman a two-year severance pay totaling $400,000 if she’s fired within the first year.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. —
An unprecedented severance payout is on the table for newly appointed Portsmouth City Manager Tonya Chapman, according to Mayor Shannon Glover and Councilman Bill Moody.

They said the two councilmen in charge of negotiating her contract want to offer the former police chief a two-year severance pay totaling $400,000 if she’s fired within the first year. If she's fired in year two, she'll still have one year of severance pay at $200,000.

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Chapman was appointed by a 4-3 vote earlier this month after former City Manager Angel Jones was abruptly fired in that same 4-3 vote.

"It’s not good governance. It’s not good expenditure potentially of the taxpayers' funds. It’s unprecedented what they want to do as far as the severance," Moody said.

Chapman will be making $200,000 per year, which according to Mayor Glover, is the top of the pay scale for the city manager position.

"Then to propose and recommend a severance of almost half a million dollars, that is egregious. I have never seen that happen," he said.

Glover said none of the previous four city managers had a two-year severance payout. The most they had was one year.

That's a fact that concerns Councilwoman Lisa Lucas-Burke.

"This is a terrible slap in the face to them and anyone behind them if they are not offered that," she said during Tuesday night's council meeting.

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During the meeting, Councilman Mark Whitaker said Mayor Glover should not be speaking about the severance package or the pending contract outside of the closed session.

He makes up one-half of the personnel committee that is negotiating Chapman’s contract, along with Vice Mayor De’Andre Barnes.

“Any wording in a city manager’s contract is public record after both sides agree. My only hope is that he hasn’t revealed information discussed in a closed meeting, compromising our ability to negotiate and get the best deal for the city," Barnes said in a statement.

Mayor Glover said he doesn't think this part of Chapman's proposed contract will go over well with the citizens of Portsmouth -- and it did not.

"I don't understand why we're paying a trainee $200,000 per year," said one speaker Tuesday night.

"If you didn't do it previously and didn't set that precedent, then you shouldn't do it now," said another.

Mayor Glover said he believes the taxpayers deserve to know what is going on behind closed doors.

"I cannot in good conscious tell those families and those individuals in our community that are paying high taxes and are struggling with their day-to-day bills that they could potentially be on the hook for paying someone that is inexperienced and is coming to our city with other things that they would ultimately have to pay almost half a million dollars if she were to be asked to leave," he said.

The mayor and council then voted to make Chapman’s start date June 30.

She was originally supposed to start Tuesday, but that start date was delayed to allow time for the results of the criminal background check to come back.

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